Apr 06

“Fragile Bully (…Narcissism in the Age of Trump)”

The archetypal narcissist is a crazymaker, at once needy and aggressive, desperate
for love and yet rejecting of it, fragile child and bully. Laurie Helgoe, Fragile Bully

Psychologist Laurie Helgoe, who previously wrote Introvert Power, also has some important things to say in her 2019 Fragile Bully: Understanding Our Destructive Affair With Narcissism in the Age of Trump. In this book she explains how to disengage from people in your lives who display Trump-like behavior.

First, more about the term “fragile bully” from Kenneth N. Levy, PhD: It’s about “…the paradoxical dynamic of narcissism—that the grandiosity and surrounding bravado belies an underlying fragility and brittleness.”

A key statement from Helgoe: “When I talk to clients, friends, and family members who are trying to exit a destructive dance [around a narcissist], two consistent themes emerge: feelings of failure for being unable to fix the fragile bully, and feelings of shame for staying in the dance.”

So, how does one reconcile this dance? Knowledge and advice can be found within the following quotes I’ve selected from a resource on Helgoe’s website:

With severe personality disorders such as borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, it is often the people in the lives of the affected person who suffer. So we can often sense we are dealing with a narcissist by the feelings he or she arouses in us.

Narcissistic characteristics such as grandiosity and a sense of entitlement tend to elicit aggressive feelings—a desire to put the narcissist in his or her place. The narcissist’s lack of empathy may elicit extreme frustration. And on the flip side, the narcissist’s focus on his or her fragility can leave others feeling trapped—trying to “fix” the narcissist so that he or she can be more available. People are also drawn in by the narcissist’s charisma or fragility, gaining a sense of importance by being in the shared spotlight or by the promise of being the fragile narcissist’s savior.

The fragile-bully dynamic leaves loved ones with nowhere to turn: defend yourself, and the partner feels victimized; distance yourself, and the partner feels abandoned; express an independent thought, and the narcissist feels threatened. The unwritten contract is to empty yourself and keep dancing in step with the narcissist’s needs, even when those needs hurt you.

Developing empathy for oneself is crucial to the process of healing and emancipation. It’s also important to make room for the grief of ending a relationship—even a destructive one. The grief may have more to do with disappointment that you were unable to “fix” the narcissist or that you invested so much in a relationship that turned on you.

Narcissism sets up a “you versus me” dynamic, so breaking that dynamic is key. “You are important to me” statements combined with what Craig Malkin calls “empathy prompts”—“I feel/need/want,” help empower the self-absorbed to be cognizant and supportive of the loved one. If such efforts—which may be better accomplished with the help of a therapist—do not work, this may be a sign that the capacity for empathy is just not there.

Dec 11

“Almost Everything” by Anne Lamott

Those who enjoy Lamott’s consistently self-deprecating humor, vulnerability, and occasional nuggets of positivity will enjoy her latest; others will be adrift. Publishers Weekly, regarding Almost Everything by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott‘s newest book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hopewas written “as a gift to her grandson and niece,” notes Kirkus Reviews. This particular series of essays, states Kirkus, “is an obsessively inward-focusing hodgepodge of life stories, advice, and ramblings.”

Although not for everyone, Lamott is certainly loved by many. Here’s a sampling of quotes from Almost Everything:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Could you say this about yourself right now, that you have immense and intrinsic value, at your current weight and income level, while waiting to hear if you got the job or didn’t, or sold your book or didn’t? This idea that I had all the value I’d ever needed was concealed from me my whole life. I want a refund.

There is almost nothing outside you that will help in any lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ.

Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you. Horribly, what this means is that it is also an inside job for the few people you love most desperately in the world. We cannot arrange lasting safety or happiness for our most beloved people. They have to find their own ways, their own answers.

We believe that we are all in this together. This was the message of childhood, that being together meant connection, like an electrical circuit — think school recess on the blacktop, summer camp, and all those family holiday gatherings. Ram Dass said that if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.

The world is Lucy teeing up the football.

This country has felt more stunned and doomed than at any time since the assassinations of the 1960s and the Vietnam War, and while a sense of foreboding may be appropriate, the hate is not. At some point, the hate becomes an elective. I was becoming insane, letting politicians get me whipped up into visions of revenge, perp walks, jail. And this was satisfying for a time. But it didn’t work as a drug, neither calming nor animating me. There is no beauty or safety in hatred. As a long-term strategy, based on craziness, it’s doomed.

Certain special people of late have caused a majority of us to experience derangement. Some of us have developed hunchbacks, or tics in our eyelids. Even my Buddhist friends have been feeling despair; and when they go bad, you know the end is nigh. Booker T. Washington said, “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him,” and this is the most awful thing about it. Yet part of me sort of likes it, too, for the flush of righteousness, the bond to half of the electorate. Who would we be without hate? In politics, breakups, custody disputes, hate turns us into them, with a hangover to boot, the brown-bottle flu of the spirit.

Haters want us to hate them, because hate is incapacitating. When we hate, we can’t operate from our real selves, which is our strength.

I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.

I have taken the path of liberation: kindness.

Jan 16

“Citizen Therapists for Democracy” Forming

Several months ago I posted about Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism, an organization founded by psychologist Bill Doherty during the presidential campaign. Now Doherty has announced the formation of its replacement, Citizen Therapists for Democracy, an international dues-paying association dedicated to newly evolving goals.

As Doherty stated in his launch-related email, goals of Citizen Therapists for Democracy include the following:

  • Learning and spreading transformative ways to practice therapy with a public dimension
  • Rebuilding democratic capacity in communities
  • Resisting anti-democratic ideologies and practice

Some excerpted points from the Citizen Therapists FAQ section:

If it’s partisan politics (vote for my candidate or party), then it doesn’t have a place in therapy. But if politics broadly means how people with different views figure out how to live together and govern themselves—and then the policies that emerge from this process—then it’s game for conversation in therapy.

To be quite concrete, if you treat anxious or depressed Latino or Muslim clients who are frightened about Trumpism (and anti-Semitism is on the rise), is your job only to treat their symptoms or to also oppose the public xenophobia? We believe the nature of our work inherently combines public and private.

Keep in mind that Citizen Therapists for Democracy is not an “anti” movement. We are promoting democracy and public mental health, and in those contexts will oppose threats from any quarter. Further, there is collective power when members of a healing profession engage the public domain in their role as professionals.

On the matter of the blank slate, it’s really a myth in therapy. If a client learns that his/her therapist is in an organization that opposes aspects of Trumpism, well, that’s probably not going to be such a big surprise based on lots of assumptions the client has already made (you drive a Prius and have the New Yorker magazine in the waiting room). In the same way, if a client worries out loud about family members being rounded up and deported, and the therapist agrees that this is a scary public policy, is this not a validation rather than a misuse of therapist power?

The social forces that allowed Donald Trump the man to become President, and that are rising around the world, are so much bigger than his personality that focusing on a diagnosis risks marginalizing the contributions of therapists. Once mental health professionals took a diagnostic position during the campaign, that’s all the media wanted to know from them—before the media moved on to more interesting topics.

“You’re probably NOT a good fit if any of the following is a big ‘yes’ for you” (from the website):

  • Your main focus for action now is making sure Trump is a one-term President with a Democratic Congress after two years.
  • You think that therapists must continue to beat the drum that Trump has a personality disorder that makes him unfit to be President.
  • Your main approach to Trump supporters in the White working class is help them see how they’ve been duped.
  • You believe that Progressive politics has most of the answers to our nation’s problems, with Conservatives having little or nothing to offer.
  • It would feel weird to have Conservative therapists share a social change organization with you.